Do you have problems with dizziness?

Published Feb 26, 2017 at 9:00am

Dizziness or light-headedness is feeling unsteady or off-balance.

We may also feel like we might faint, fall, or vomit. This is usually relieved by lying down. There is no feeling of spinning, with light-headedness. The word for a spinning sensation is vertigo. Although dizziness and vertigo are different, most of us are not aware of the difference.

Dizziness has many causes. If you are anemic and you can’t get enough blood to your brain you will feel dizzy. If your blood pressure falls when you stand up suddenly, you feel dizzy. Drinking alcohol, especially binge drinking, causes many people to be dizzy. Stress can cause it. If light-headedness is severe, you may faint. This is called syncope and it is usually temporary. People who faint turn pale and fall to the floor. If they lie flat, they usually recover quickly. You need to talk to your doctor about any spells of dizziness or fainting. 

The doctor will check your blood pressure when you stand up quickly. If the blood pressure falls, that may be due to medication you are taking. Besides altering the medication, you should sit on the side of the bed at night, before you stand up. If anemia is the cause of lightheadedness, the doctor will try to find the cause of the anemia. Heart rhythm problems can cause light-headedness and you may need to see a cardiologist about this. 

Vertigo and dizziness are not the same, but for most of us the symptoms are similar. Vertigo is like light-headedness, but includes the feeling that you are spinning or that the room is spinning. There are many causes that may or may not involve your inner ears. Start with your regular doctor. Go over all your medications and see if they might be the cause. You may need to decrease or change blood pressure medicine, with the doctor’s guidance. You may need to cut down on sedatives, pain pills, or sleeping pills. Especially you may need to cut down on alcohol. 

Your doctor may do tests for vertigo, or may send you to a specialist for these tests. If vertigo is diagnosed, special maneuvers of your head and neck may alleviate the problem. If vertigo persists, and no cause is found, you can be taught exercises that help. Physical therapists teach these exercises. Your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist. 

Tinnitus is the sensation of buzzing of the ears, when there is no sound around you. It can be disturbing and it tends to happen to older people. It is caused by damage to cells in the inner ear. This may be caused by long periods of time exposed to loud noises. Some medications cause this problem, particularly aspirin.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you take. Also have your doctor see if any wax or other material is touching the ear drum. Damage to the heart or diabetes seems to cause tinnitus, in some cases. You will probably be referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor who will evaluate all of the possible causes and whether any treatment will be helpful. If no serious cause is found, many patients learn to tolerate the noise. As they learn to tolerate it, their stress level comes down.

Meniere’s disease is a condition of the inner ear. People have episodes of vertigo and tinnitus. Over time, hearing in that ear decreases. The episodes are short, between half-an-hour and a day, and they tend to recur. The cause is usually not known. As in the other ear conditions, your doctor will send you to an ENT doctor, who will test for balance and see if there is a treatable cause. 

Tests may not find a cause for dizziness, vertigo, or tinnitus. If so, try to decrease the stress in your life, give up alcohol, get plenty of sleep, and get 20 minutes a day of exercise. Visit your senior center or religious facility regularly. Go out with friends. Watch less television.